"Poets are always the forerunners of a literature. Its first lispings are done in numbers," declared H. L. Mencken when celebrating the fifth anniversary of The American Mercury, that magazine dedicated to mighty blows at zanies and Zion.
In New Zealand, the youngest Dominion, last, loneliest, most self-satisfied, a literature has not yet arisen. There has been a good deal of writing, dull history and amateurish fiction, but little art. Islanded twelve hundred miles from that other great province of the intellect, Australia, the New Zealanders have heard few of the echoes of modern thought. Great readers, they have written stumblingly. Living has been easy, environment kind, and the nation has become Socialistic and lazy, living in a state committed to paternalism and agriculture. One of the advertisements by which the Dominion has sought to arrest attention summed up the state of native culture. "New Zealand," it declared—"The Empire's Dairy Farm."
But if this has been the state of affairs, it is passing. The great barrier to development of a New Zealand literature, lack of intelligent interest by the country's own journals, has vanished almost everywhere. Publication has acted as a stimulus, writers have sprung up in scores and have discovered a large audience. The future no longer seems full of page Viiiemptiness, and the foundations of a New Zealand literature are being laid.
Of that poetic impulse which has visited the country in the few years since the war, these poems are representative. They are, of course, uneven in merit as they are different in method. The Celtic twilight of Eileen Duggan, the intense feeling of Alison Grant seem odd beside the sentiment of A. R. D. Fairburn, the sound, so like sense, of Robin Hyde, the formlessness of Katherine Mansfield, and the patient workmanship of the wordsmith, Bartlett Adamson. But there are in this book personalities both definite and attractive. And there are, also, some poems which no future anthologist of Modern English verse can afford to ignore. That is why this book has been made.